The New Shape of Specialty Ceilings

Sept. 7, 2006
An improved focus on integration and specification has allowed ceilings to break free from their traditional, uniform construction

An improved focus on integration and specification has allowed ceilings to break free from their traditional, uniform construction. “Not everything is 2 [feet] by 2 [feet] anymore,” says Graeme Gee, product manager for Chicago-based USG’s specialty ceilings group. The popularity of specialty ceilings has given building owners, architects, and designers the freedom to create unique environments.

Every building space requires different functions from a ceiling, and specialty ceilings have evolved to accommodate these varying needs. (See Glossary of Specialty Ceilings, right.) Typically used in prominent areas of a building, specialty ceilings create a distinct feel, whether that feel is industrial, elegant, or open. “They help designers and the specifying community create excitement for a space,” remarks Chris Skelton, USG’s director of segment marketing, focused on architects, designers, and owners.

Although not the most economical and practical choice for workspaces in office buildings, conference rooms and executive suites are ideal environments for specialty ceilings. And, according to Gee, another market has emerged in the last few years: educational facilities. “[Architects and designers] didn’t want schools to look like white concrete blocks with very high ceilings. So, in auditoriums and other areas, they would dress them up with some special ceilings with a lot of curves intersecting in the cafeteria.”

Improved integration has allowed specialty ceilings into some of these new environments. Lighting manufacturers have increased their offerings and decreased the size of fixtures, causing ceiling manufacturers to alter the size and shape of their tiles. Also, according to the December 2005 AIA/Architectural Record article “Perforated Metal and Wood Ceilings: Sustainability, Acoustics, and Aesthetics,” computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM) advances, along with high-speed and versatile perforating equipment, make custom ceiling options more available and affordable.

Peder Gulbrandsen, principal industrial designer for building systems at USG, sees even more possibilities on the horizon. “I see a better kind of continued interface with mechanicals. These ceiling systems will better incorporate how the space is conditioned and how the space is lit. Most of the systems coming out in the future, both short and long term, will be accompanied with more lighting solutions. The ceiling really is the entire system, not just the grid and not just the tile.”

According to Gee, the dominant trend in ceilings is “components that enable architects or designers to make layers.” Although specialty ceilings are not necessarily chosen for their acoustical performance, these layers, usually a design addition, can also improve the sound absorption of the ceiling. “A lot of times, the installation will have a traditional acoustical ceiling above it and specialty ceilings will be suspended below,” adds John Mandel, manager, corporate communications, USG.

In addition to layers, Gee cites curved systems, linear metal panels, and luminous ceilings as popular trends in the specialty ceiling industry. The bottom line, stresses Gulbrandsen, is customization. “Each ceiling, even though it’s made from the same product, can be entirely different. The more these systems enable the architect and designers to make their own statements, the more successful they are in the marketplace.”

Anne K. Goedken ([email protected]) is new products editor at Buildings magazine.

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